Wax museums have a long history in horror and the macabre. If fact, one could say the whole point of a wax museum is to stimulate the weird notion of the “living dead” by seeing non-living representations of famous or infamous people, but in a fashion that makes them seem “alive”. As such, a wax museum has huge potential for a haunt. Madame Tussauds, the New York City outpost of the world spanning Madame Tussaud wax museum company, in fact turned into a limited duration haunt in October 2011. Oni and I visited it during this time and the following review reflects our thoughts on this visit.
To start I have to say we have never been inside the museum to see it during it’s regular hours. This added to our anticipation, and our fears, since we had absolutely no idea of the layout or the types of exhibits that were in place. The notion of seeing dimly lit realistic people already has a creepy vibe–but knowing that this would make the haunt actors even harder to detect made this haunt seem even more scary than a regular one. Even the best haunts don’t usually have the funding to have exceptionally realistic fake bodies or displays, so this place started off in a position of high possibilities.
It was relatively easy to get in and get our tickets. While the line control wasn’t the best, it wasn’t terrible either, just a bit messy when it came down to who was expected to approach the check out from the multiple lines. Once we purchased our tickets we walked upstairs and awaited for an elevator to bring us to the beginning of the walkthrough. We ended up waiting about 20 minutes, with a small group of people ahead of us being let in first. This was a positive though, since they weren’t doing a conga line approach to things. Each group was discretely taken into to the entrance floor and given quite a bit of time to walk through the haunt. I have to admit the anticipation helped put me on edge–We’ve been to a huge number of haunts, but the atmosphere was definitely doing it’s job (much like Eastern State Penitentiary).
It then was our time to enter. We were in a small group, with a few excitable young women, and we ascended in the elevator. We entered the haunt in a wide spacious room with stairs leading down–what would normally be the reverse of a regular haunt that squeezes you down into a tight space. Immediately the dim lighting and figures made us really get ready for some major scares. The idea that the space was so open actually was really effective–who knows where someone could come running out, or a half-seen figure make odd unexpected movements. The payoff was pretty immediate with a man running out waving around a sword and running up onto some of the furniture. His assault occurred so rapidly and with such force that the group of young excitable women seemed to practically fall into a swoon of fear. Oni and and I continued onward at a slow pace, now on guard. (as an aside: We’re not actually sure what happened with that group of women. After this initial room we actually never saw them again! They never caught up to us–and we were actually moving pretty slowly–and we were at the exit for awhile discussing the haunt–and they never exited during the time we were there! They may very well have dumped out of the haunt immediately based on this first experience!)
The ominous sounds being played within the event only made it more creepy as we walked through more rooms and displays. Having never been inside during the day we weren’t sure if any of the settings were special for this night, or were a part of their regular displays. All I know was it was damn effective. Oni and I have a deep knowledge of the psychology of haunts–how things are set up for scares to misdirect your attention, and this place through things off the regular script. Almost everything in every room was a potential place for a scare, and it made for ongoing tension–which is excellent for a haunt.
The concept of the haunt set up was a walkthrough and descent through the facility. The only other thing that would lead me to having this same feeling of eeriness would be a tour through a darkened series of stores in a mall, a warehouse. Areas that normally would have workers only added to the tension. You just never really knew when a scare would happen. And when they did, it was always a major shock.
The only let down for the event was the ending. The haunt itself did not really have a direct narrative–it was so creepy it didn’t need one!–but it is always good to have some kind of strong finish for a haunt to have a lasting impact. In this case we were set up for something by hearing the wailing and insane babbling of a woman in the distance. When we reached her she was acting in the typical manner of a baby carriage wielding pyscho. the whole “my baby is gone” scenario. We expected some kind of payoff for this, other than the unsettling encounter with the actress. Unfortunately this did not occur. After her we were at the exit and out of the haunt. No “run out” scare, no final monstrous image to leave us panting or afraid on the way out. Sadly it was quite a bit weak in that regard.
Regardless though, the experience of the haunt itself throughout was exceptionally good, and was one of the more unique haunts we’ve been to. It was limited to only 8 nights in 2011, so it was a rare and great treat in the middle of New York City. If they continue it in 2012 it’s a definite on our list to revisit, and a recommended haunt to seek out.